The legends, stories, tall tales, and fables that surround the life of Tung Hai-Ch'uan are more numerous than the number of times he walked around a circle during the course of his sixty-nine years. Because Tung has been glorified in pulp hero novels and martial arts fairly tales, separating the fact and fiction of his life story is not an easy task. If you are well read on the subject of Chinese martial arts, and you believe everything that you read, then you know that Tung Hai-Ch'uan could fly like a bird, walk on water, vanish into thin air, had arms that stretched down several inches below his knees, had demons enter his body to fight for him, and invented the art of Pa Kua Chang in a dream. All in a day's work for a Chinese folk hero.
Since Tung seldom spoke of his own affairs, his successors spread stories about his histoiy which were a combination of truth and fantasy. When the pulp novelists got a hold of the stories, and embellished heavily on the fantasy side, a supernatural hero was born. In this article I have done my best to trim the fiction from the fact. However, because the fiction is many times based in fact and because some readers might enjoy having a little fat to chew on, 1 have provided both sides of the story in many cases. The question of where Tung learned his Pa Kua is not particularized here. This topic is covered in detail in the serial article which begins on page 14 of this issue.
Tung's Early Martial Arts Training
Tung Hai-Ch'uan was a native of Hebei Province, Wen An county, Chu Chia Wu township. The Tung family moved to Chu Chia Wu from Pa county, K'ai Kou township (also in Hebei). They were originally known as the Tung's of K'ai Kou. The exact date Tung Hai-Ch'uan was born varies depending on the source. Some articles say that he was born as early as 1796 while others say that he was born as late as 1816. While working on his Masters degree thesis on the origins of Pa Kua Chang, Professor K'ang Ko-Wu of Beijing conducted an investigation into the most probable date ofTung's birth. K'ang interviewed a number ofTung's family relations in his home town of Chu Chia Wu. While Tung's birth date was not recorded, his family members did have knowledge ofTung's age in relation to other family members who's birth dates were recorded. Through his research K'ang determined that Tung was born in 1813.
The date Tung died is well documented on the stone monument placed at Tung's tomb in 1883. The year of Tung's death was 1882. A simple calculation would tell us that if Tung was born in 1813 and died in 1882, he was 69 years old when he died. According to an article printed in Beijing Sports Monthly in 1932, Tung was approximately 66 years old when he died. In his book Deep Insights Into Pa Kua Chang, Li Tzu-Ming states that Tung started teaching Pa Kua publicly in 1870 and, at that time, he was in his 50 s. A recording ofYin Fu's anecdotes also confirms that Tung was in his 50's when Yin was learning from him.
These dates agree with K'ang's information which states that Tung was in his 60 s when he died.
In the middle of the Ching Dynasty, martial arts were popular in Hsiung county (the region south of the capitol). The Local History, Hsiung County Chronicles (1929) indicate that the martial arts ability of a man named Tung Hsuan-Chou, of K'ai Kou village, stood out from the crowd. Thus, Tung Hai-Ch'uan was born in a region where martial arts were very popular and it is said that as a youth he made his name locally through his martial braveiy. The Wen An County stele at Tung's tomb site (1905) states that when he was in his early twenties, Tung's martial arts became quite refined.
The exact martial arts methods which Tung studied as a youth are not clear. Some sources say that he studied the Erh Lang system of Northern Shaolin (a sister art of Lohan Shaolin). Arts that were indigenous to the Wen An area at the time of Tung's youth were: Pa Fan Ch'uan, Hung Ch'uan, Hsing Men, and Chin Kang Ch'uan1. It is likely that Tung practiced, or was exposed to, a number of these arts or derivatives thereof.
What exactly happened to Tung after he left his home village is unclear. Where he might have gone and what he might have done will be addressed in the "Origins of Pa Kua Chang" serial article which begins on page 14 of this issue. Biographies of Tung typically state something vague that resembles the following:
"To deepen his knowledge of martial arts, Tung traveled to the four corners of China." He went to the areas of Chu Chiang, An Hui, Chiang Su, Si Chuan and he visited the famous mountains and great rivers. There was nowhere that he didn't strive to seek out unusual skills. Where ever he went, he visited famous teachers, absorbing everything that he could."
A group of Pa Kua Chang practitioners at Tung's original tomb site.
A young eunuch in Beijing, 1901, reveals the site of his castration.
Concerning the matter of how Tung actually learned, or developed, his Pa Kua Chang, there are many versions. This topic is discussed in detail in the article which starts on page 14 and is to run serially in several issues of the journal. As a brief recap, we can say that there are two versions; one says Tung invented it, the other says he didn't - sounds logical. What boggles the mind is all of the numerous variations on those two themes. The versions that said he was taught Pa Kua Chang say he learned it "from an unusual person in the mountain fastness." The location of the mountain and the identity of the "unusual person" are the topics of debate among this school of thought. On the other hand, those who say he invented it quarrel over what arts influenced him and from whom and in what location of China he learned these arts.
Tung the Eunuch ?
The one thing concerning Tung's life which no one can really comprehend is the story of him being a eunuch. The sources which state that Tung was a eunuch all say that he did not become a eunuch until he was of middle age. With such extremely high martial arts skills, why would he have entered the palace as a eunuch in his middle age? It was obviously not because of hardships in his daily life. As he didn't tell anyone, others were left to guess and many versions abound. Some even romanticized them, turning these stories into novelettes. Most are not worth discussing, however, the question, "Was Tung really a eunuch?" should probably be examined.
Before discussing whether or not Tung was a eunuch, it is probably best to discuss what a eunuch is and why anyone in their right mind would want to become one.
A eunuch was a menial servant, working for the emperor or one of the eight hereditary princes, who had been castrated in order to insure authenticity of the succession and to guarantee the chastity of the concubines. Traditionally, the emperor had three thousand eunuchs and the princes had thirty each. The emperors children and nephews where given twenty each and his cousins and the descendants of the Tartar princes who helped Nurhaci found the dynasty were also given ten each2. There was a special establishment outside one of the palace gates in Beijing which would perform the castration. The technique was as follows:
When about to be operated on, the patient is placed in a semi-supine position on a broad bench. One man squatting behind him grasps his waist, and another is told off to look after each leg. Bandages are fastened tightly round the hypogastric and inguinal regions, the penis and the scrotum are three times bathed in a hot decoction of pepper pods, and the patient, if an adult, is solemnly asked, whether he repents or will ever repent his decision. If he appears doubtful he is unbound and dismissed, but if his courage has held out, as it usually does, all the parts are swiftly swept away by one stroke of a sickle-shaped knife, a pewter-plug is inserted into the urethra, and the wound is covered with paper soaked in cold water and is firmly bandaged. The patient, supported by two men, is then walked about the room for two or three hours, after which he is permitted to lie down. For three days he gets nothing to drink nor is the plug removed from the urethra. At the end of this period the dressings are changed, and the accumulated urine is allowed to escape. The parts generally heal in about one hundred days. About two percent of all cases prove fatal3.
... eunuchs were whole-heartedly despised. A common saying was 'he stinks like a eunuch, you get wind of him at five hundred yards'.
Why would someone want to go endure this kind of operation? Reverence for the emperor was one reason, but the primary purpose was to escape a life of poverty. A eunuch could do quite well for himself financially. Although their salaries were not high, the eunuchs were entitled to a portion of all money and gifts that passed through their hands on its way to the emperor4. In the case of Tung Hai-Ch'uan, it would not seem that he entered the palace as a eunuch in his middle age to escape a life of poverty. Some say that he was a bandit and was running from the authorities, however, this does not make much sense. I'd assume that there were easier ways of hiding from one's pursuers.
In an article entitled "Regarding the Mystery of Tung Hai-Ch'uan's History" written for China Wu Shu Magazine in December of 1986s, Li Tzu-Ming states, "As a youth, I
was interested in Tung Hai-Ch'uan's histoiy. I asked second generation instructors and third generation senior classmates about Tung's entering the palace as a eunuch. One explanation which I felt worth considering, I am presenting it here as a reference for research."
Li's explanation of why Tung became a eunuch is as follows:
Tung's skills were advanced, his lightness art (ching kung) was quite good and he could leap quite high. When he was in the south, he had taken part in the Tai Ping Rebellion and had received an audience with Hung Hsiou-Ch'uan (Emperor of the Tai Ping). Hung sent him north to work covertly and murder the Wei Feng Emperor. After Tung got to Beijing, he saw that the Emperor lived deep within the forbidden city and the palace was a maze of alleys and doors heavily fortified. It is said that he attempted to enter on three occasions, yet was not able to achieve his objective. For the grand goal of the Tai Ping, he sacrificed his ability to have posterity, entering the palace as a eunuch so he could get close to the Emperor and murder him.
"Most regrettably, when he became a eunuch he was sent to the residence of the Prince of Su and worked as a menial. Since he was sent to this residence, he was not able to get close to the Wei Feng Emperor and thus could not carry out the orders of the Tai Ping Emperor. After the fall of the Tai Ping, Tung lived in hiding." Although this explanation lacks concrete evidence, it may sound reasonable ifTung, in fact, was a eunuch. One must admit, unless there was extremely compelling reason for a person of such high skills to allow himself to be castrated and become a eunuch, he probably would not do it. However, the question remains, "Was Tung really a eunuch?"
Consideration must be given to the physical changes one goes through when an operation of this sort is performed. In her book. The Dragon Empress. Marina Warner states6:
"... a eunuch often suffered from evil-smelling discharges all his life. If castrated young they never became hirsute, and their voices never broke but developed into a rasping falsetto: if castrated after the age of puberty they lost all their facial and body hair and their voices were high, but less of a screech. They became slack-bellied and flaccid, their faces shrunken and wizened, and they suffered from premature ageing. At forty a eunuch looked like a man of sixty."
". . . eunuchs were whole-heartedly despised. A common saying was 'he stinks like a eunuch, you get wind of him at five hundred yards' They were nicknamed 'crows', because of their harsh, high-pitched voices; and they were so sensitive to their mutilation that the mention of a teapot without a spout or a dog without a tail offended them deeply, while, unlike most Chinamen, they showed exceptional modesty when urinating in the street."
Tung, seeking to avoid unscrupulous people that were trying to defame him, entered the residence of the Prince of Su pretending to be a eunuch.
Modern medicine validates these symptoms of eunuchoidism. The average male will produce approximately seven milligrams of testosterone a day. In order to produce normal levels of testosterone, the hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain, and Leydig in the testes must be intact and functioning. Without testes, the body does not produce testosterone. Without testosterone production the muscles will atrophy, the individual will have girlish features, loss of hair will be experienced, the skin will have a waxy appearance, and the voice will become high pitched7. Does this sound like the characteristic physical profile of a martial arts master?
Continued on page 7
Pa Kua Chang practitioners gather in 1930 to add two new memorial stones to Tung's tomb
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